Arctic Carbon: One More Devastating Result Of Global Warming

The effect of modern society — of emitting billions of pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over a century — isn’t only going to make the plains into deserts, isn’t only going to make ocean-front property into underwater property, isn’t only going to exponentially increase the numbers of hurricanes, tornadoes, and severe storms, and it isn’t only going to kill all the polar bears in the wild. According to a new study, scientists are all but convinced that there is a layer of carbon in the ice of the Arctic that will only snowball the global warming effect, effectively dooming the world of our children’s children.

A massive concentration of carbon embedded in the ice of the Arctic is currently being studied by a team of scientists from the University of Georgia. As the ice the carbon is embedded in thaws as it never has since it formed, the carbon is being converted to carbon dioxide, and releasing into the atmosphere.

Currently, the scientists are studying just exactly how large the carbon layer embedded in the arctic ice is, and what the exact effects will be when it is released. They believe that the carbon has existed under the ice for thousands of years, and originally formed by the remains of plants and animals that perished over 20,000 years ago. The landscape of the Arctic has been frozen year-round for centuries, however, now that it is thawing as a result of global warming, scientists are worried that all the carbon buried in the arctic ice will thaw, float into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, and only accelerate the global warming process.

The amount of carbon dioxide that will be released as a result of the melting arctic ice layer will be more than ten times the amount of carbon dioxide that has been released into the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution.

Aron Stubbins, a researcher at the University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, talked about the difference between the carbon that is currently being released into the atmosphere and the carbon that will be released from the layer in the Arctic.

“If you cut down a tree and burn it, you are simply returning the carbon in that tree to the atmosphere where the tree originally got it. However, this [the Arctic layer] is carbon that has been locked away in a deep-freeze storage for a long time. This is carbon that has been out of the active, natural system for tens of thousands of years. To reintroduce it into the contemporary system will have an effect.”

According to the researchers, the release of the carbon won’t happen all at once, but gradually over time. The exact rate of release of carbon from the arctic ice layer will take more study to compute.

[Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images]